Mary Pat Kelly drew from her book Galway Bay, which tells the story of the Kelly and Keeley families of Bearna, County Galway and the challenges they faced when they settled in the Chicago area.
“I prefer to call it the Great Starvation rather than the Great Famine or, as it is sometimes referred to, the Great Hunger,” said Kelly. “For Americans, to say ‘famine’ implies there was no food in the country, but food was being exported all those years.” Kelly, who also spoke at the Chicago commemoration hosted by The American Ireland Fund in conjunction with Old St. Patrick’s Parish and the Consul General of Ireland, believes that the phrase ‘Great Starvation’ encapsulates how “the relief efforts were so hampered by the ideology” of the policies and practices of the ruling class that prevented working-class Irish citizens’ access to food while grain was simultaneously being exported for profit.
Another truly meaningful commemoration took place in Springfield, MA. An Irish-American society known as the John Boyle O’Reilly Club began its first food drive before St. Patrick’s Day to collect donations for the Open Pantry in Springfield and to commemorate victims of the Great Famine, without knowing their efforts would coincide with the first National Famine Memorial Day. Eric R. Devine, president of the John Boyle O’Reilly Club, said that the food drive’s success was “better than expected.” While the club intended to close the drive after St. Patrick’s Day, the tremendous amount of donations convinced them to continue it into May. Devine said, “We wanted to do our part to see if we could help out.”
For more information on the Centenary of the Cross: Tom Gargan, National Chair – 2009 Project via email at RESERVATIONS@AOH-2009.COM,
or by calling (514) 639-0914 or (514) 928-7196.